Cancer is an umbrella term for a wide range of diseases that can affect any part of the body. It is characterized by uncontrolled, rapid growth of abnormal cells.The most common cancers diagnosed in men are lung, prostate and colorectal cancers. For women, breast, lung and cervical cancers are the common ones. Cancer arises from the mutation of normal cells into tumour cells that advances from a precancerous lesion to a malignant tumour. These changes are brought about by the interaction between genetic factors and environmental factors.
Cancer or commonly known as, ‘The Big C’ is becoming more rampant worldwide. Research shows that cancer is the major cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths last year. As the world population is expanding, the global number of cancer deaths is increasing. The burden of cancer is becoming more alarming causing a need for clinicians to promote cancer prevention and early detection. The cancer burden can be reduced through early detection as well as increasing the chance of cure if diagnosed early and treated appropriately.
Routine cancer screening can help to detect cancer at its early stages. This is key in getting treatment early and increasing cure rates as well as improving survival outcomes. The goal of screening is to identify asymptomatic individuals with findings suggestive of malignancy. When abnormalities are seen during screening, further tests to establish a diagnosis will ensue.
CDC (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends screening for breast, colorectal, cervical and lung cancers. Colon cancer is one of the most diagnosed cancers with the majority of them detected at late stages. Colon cancer screening can prevent colon cancer by identifying and removing polyps before they become cancerous and also detecting cancer at its early stages. Immunochemical fecal occult blood test is recommended for screening for people over 50 years without symptoms. This test detects blood in the feces which may be a sign of polyps or cancer. Colonoscopy is done to those who have high risk such as strong family history. A flexible, lighted tube is inserted into the colon through the anus to visualize the entire colon for any polyps or tumours.
Among women, breast cancer is the most prevalent in all ethnic groups and in all age groups. It has increased about three folds in the last decade leading to the main cause of death among women. The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends women aged 50 – 74 years old and with average risk to get a mammogram done at least every 2 years. Those who are younger and with higher risk are highly encouraged to consult a doctor to discuss the benefits and risks of screening tests. Mammography is an X-ray of the breast which can show irregularities or tumours in the breast. Breast self-examination (BSE) serves more for awareness as women will be more familiar with their breast and will be quick to notice any changes in the size or any presence of a lump.
Apart from that, cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women. Cervical cancer death rate dropped significantly with the increased use of Pap smear and with the help of HPV (Human Papillomavirus) vaccination. Women aged 18 – 70 who have been sexually active should have a pap smear done every 2 years. The Pap (Papanicolaou) smear test is a procedure to obtain cells from the cervix and will be observed under a microscope to look for any precancerous or cancerous lesions. Regular screening has been successful in preventing cervical cancers.
In conclusion, early screening and prevention is fundamental in the fight against cancer. With advances in research and technology, there are significant improvements in early cancer detection. Early detection is crucial as treatments for earlier stages are more effective.